Hamza Shahbaz takes oath as chief minister of Punjab province in Lahore. File
Tariq Butt, Correspondent
The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Thursday ordered recounting of votes for the election of Punjab’s chief minister held on April 16, instructing that the votes of 25 dissident Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) lawmakers be excluded from the counting process.
A five-member bench comprising Justice Sadaqat Ali Khan, Justice Shahid Jamil Khan, Justice Shehram Sarwar Chaudhry, Justice Sajid Mahmood Sethi and Justice Tariq Saleem Sheikh announced the verdict with a 4-1 majority.
A few hours after the LHC order, PTI Chairman Imran Khan announced that his party would challenge it in the Supreme Court (SC) on Friday.
In a short order, the LHC instructed that votes in the election held on April 16 be recounted after excluding 25 votes of the defecting lawmakers. If the required majority for Hamza Shahbaz — which is 186 votes in the 371-member strong house — to stay the chief minister is not secured, the election will be held again under Article 130(4), unless another candidate has majority votes.
According to Article 130(4), in the second round of voting, a member will not require 186 votes but simply needs a majority of those “present and voting” to be elected the chief minister.
The court said that Hamza will cease to be the chief minister if he loses the required majority after the exclusion of 25 votes by the presiding officer. However, it pointed out, functions performed and powers exercised by him as the chief minister will be “protected under the de facto doctrine” in accordance with the law.
For the recounting of votes and re-election, if required, a Punjab Assembly session will be held on July 1 (today) at 4pm. The LHC stressed that the session cannot be prorogued until the election process was completed and the presiding officer “intimated the result of the elected chief minister to the governor.”
The governor will perform his duty, under Article 130(5), of administering oath without any hesitation, at any time before 11am the very next day, it directed.
The court added that “any attempt of disorder from any quarter shall be taken as contempt of court and shall be proceeded accordingly by this larger bench on formal information by any person.”
Hamza was elected as the Punjab chief minister on April 16 during a provincial assembly session that was marred by violence. He received a total of 197 votes — 11 more than the required 186 — including from 25 dissident PTI members that were crucial for his victory. On May 20, those lawmakers were de-seated by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for defecting.
After the LHC’s order of excluding the votes of 25 defecting members, Hamza’s tally trimmed to 172 votes, which no longer holds the strength of the total membership of the provincial assembly. Therefore, as per the court’s order, a re-election is bound to be held.
As the LHC announced the order, the PTI celebrated that its petitions have been accepted and Hamza Shehbaz is no longer the chief minister.
However, later PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry said the LHC’s decision had further aggravated the political crisis in the province. “Hamza Shahbaz’s government has not survived but the solution given will not end the constitutional crisis,” he said, adding that the verdict had “many flaws.’’
“We are calling a meeting of [our] legal committee,” he said, adding that the party will approach the SC against the “flaws” in the LHC’s verdict.
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Attaullah Tarar, on the other hand, said that the PTI was unable to understand and interpret the verdict. He maintained that the LHC had not annulled the Punjab chief minister election and had also not directed to hold fresh elections.
He said that even if a run-off election took place, Hamza would still come out on top. According to Tarar, the PML-N had the support of 177 lawmakers after five of their rebel lawmakers had returned back to the party while the PTI-PML-Q alliance had 168. “We have a majority at the moment and we are confident that we will win a run-off election,” he said.